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Image courtesy of Vladimer Shioshvili

Number 22: An Unwitting Monument to Georgia’s Modern History

UK based online project that focuses on architecture, urbanism, design and material and popular culture tells a unknown story about street Ingorokva in Tbilisi center.

Online project Retrograd explores ‘big’ topics through objects and aspects of everyday life and knits them together in small but meaningful stories.

In this section, we explore how people relate to the material and cultural legacies of socialism today. Whether engaging in traditions such as jam making, passed down by grandparents who grew up under socialism, or trying to understand the place of Soviet-era monuments and museums in cities today, we want to find out how young people imagine and engage with a past that they themselves haven’t experienced but that is present in their everyday lives.

Writer William Dunbar uncovers the grim history of 22 Ingorokva Street, Tbilisi’s former Bolshevik secret police prison. The only tangible link with the Red Terror in Tbilisi today, Number 22 might soon be replaced by a modern apartment block. One former resident can save it: Giorgi Margvelashvili, Georgia’s president.

Like many historical buildings in Tbilisi, Number 22 Ingorokva Street may be about to vanish forever. Its chipping paint and faded grandeur are the signatures of the nineteenth century city, but Number 22 has a past that is an especially heavy burden.

“The building is part of Old Tbilisi, a district set up in 2007 with the aim of helping to conserve the historic fabric of the city. Judging by the new neighbours, it was a plan that did not succeed. Across the street, an eight-floor apartment block looms, having swept away a two-story courtyard. The design is lacklustre, the finish is poor, and the flats are almost all unsold. In the yard behind, a Georgian thinktank inhabits a ten-year-old development already looking almost as weather-beaten as Number 22, but with none of the charm. But the 43 families that live here hope that a similar fate awaits their building: an investor will come in, give them a lump sum to move out and then provide them with new flats in the behemoth erected on site,” Article reads.

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“This was the bloodiest house in Tbilisi in the 1920s,” says Irakli Khvadagiani, a historian and founder of SovLab, an organization that researches Soviet oppression, who is now trying to preserve Number 22 as a museum. The building was adapted easily by its new owners. Offices occupied the upper floors, while the ground floor was taken up with a commandant unit and spaces for processing prisoners. In windowless rooms away from the street side were the interrogation cells and “several levels of underground space that was used for prison cells and for torture cells.” Several of these can still be seen.

The future of Number 22 looks bleak. Most of Ingorokva Street is succumbing to the developers (the street’s name was changed from Dzerzhinsky after the restoration of Georgia’s independence in 1991. Appropriately, Pavle Ingorokva was a signatory of Georgia’s declaration of independence in 1918 and then went on to reconcile with the Communist authorities, becoming a noted historian with a profound ethnic-nationalist bent).

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To destroy a building in the conservation zone, an investor needs a letter of consent form the Ministry of Culture and the agreement of all the homeowners. Khvadagiani hopes that the history of the building will be enough to save it, but the residents can’t wait for the bulldozers to move in: “The people who live here understand that there is a bad history to this house…they just want better living conditions and nicer houses,” he says.

Read the whole article HERE